“I Shall Be Released” is a late ’60s Bob Dylan song. As a result, its meaning (is it about a literal or metaphorical prison? is it a personal or political statement? is it a statement at all?) is cloaked in ambiguity and subject to multiple interpretations.
There’s not much ambiguity in this show closing performance from the 1986 “Conspiracy of Hope” Amnesty International tour: it’s all about the release of prisoners of conscience, 18 of whom are on stage along with a small army of pop musicians headed by (among others) Bono, Sting, and Joan Baez.
Happy Human Rights Day!
I see my light come shining from the west unto the east;
Any day now, any day now, I shall be released.
In 1967 when he had a hit with “Raise Your Hand”, Eddie Floyd was no teenaged overnight sensation. He was 30 years old, and a veteran of the music business. Good thing, too.
Because when things started to get a little tense in Oslo between the audience for a Stax/Volt Revue concert and the local security detail in front of the stage, Floyd knew what to do:
“I wonder if I can get all the…all the soldiers on the front line right here to just…turn around and clap your hands one time. I know you can do it. C’mon…yeah!”
It’s Monday morning. What’s going on?
Any time of waiting is almost by definition a time of uncertainty. The old Negro spiritual, “My Way’s Cloudy”, first arranged by the great (and sainted) Harry T. Burleigh, captures the pilgrim’s uncertain (and dangerous) position, while also expressing the faith that asks God to “send one angel down“. This version comes from the original Broadway cast recording of Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity.
Here’s a Cape Cod version of sisters doing it for themselves—Ariel, Rose, Sarah and Nora Parkington performing “Inside My Head”. This video was shot in a Brooklyn recording studio, but it could just as easily be the living room of the house in Wellfleet, Massachusetts where they grew up and (no doubt) spent countless hours practicing their instruments for music lessons.
Perhaps more importantly, they spent countless hours messing around with music: learning to play multiple instruments, absorbing various influences, experimenting with songs they liked and (eventually) songs they wrote, learning to mix and match their voices, using music to express their emotions and explore the mysteries of the universe…and to say something about who they are—as individuals and as a family.
Change is a spiral, not a straight line.
Songwriter Tim Scott McConnell grew up on the ragged edge of the working class—born in a trailer park, his dad a boilermaker who moved from town to town. So the “High Hopes” he writes about aren’t the “high apple pie in the sky” hopes Frank Sinatra sang about in 1960. They’re the high hopes of a man desperately hanging on by his fingertips, struggling to avoid being crushed by the powerful forces arrayed against him. Nothing is certain, not even “a night of fearless sleep“.
In Bruce Springsteen’s new cover of “High Hopes”, it’s hard to find any hope. Not in the lyrics, which Springsteen delivers with the voice of a man on the brink of paranoia from the relentless battering he’s received over decades of fighting against the odds. Not in the music, with its swirling poly-rhythms of percussion, scratched-out acoustic guitar chords, and Tom Morello’s post-industrial keening solos.
What hope there is is fleeting, and therefore all the more important to grasp and hold onto. The one scrap of blue sky (literally) in this video comes at 3:50, just after Springsteen sings “I wanna have a wife, I wanna have some kids; I wanna look in their eyes and know they’ll stand a chance“.
It’s that look that makes all the difference for this character. The trouble he’s lived through, whatever happens to him in the future, will be worth it if his kids might have a better life.